Thursday, March 16, 2006

Baptism and theo-logy

Ack! My mind hasn't stopped from last night's post, but rather it has crept toward the implications of this for baptism. Barth continues his critique of Protestantism that desires to "understand and pursue theology as pisteology, the science and doctrine of Christian faith. The Bible and Church history are then searched exclusively and decisively for witnesses and, if possible, heroes of faith. . . . As if man were called to believe and confess, not God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the faith of the Church which expresses itself in these high-flown words, and finally in his very own faith."*

Though raised Lutheran, when I finally began to read the Bible on my own in college I became a rather convinced credobaptist, i.e., I believed that baptism represented our own personal faith-acknowledgment of our union with Christ and our profession of death to our old man and our new life in Christ. But baptism, like the Lord's Supper, is a "visible gospel," a sign pointing to the reality of God's new covenant with man completed in Christ. And the gospel is not, as mentioned yesterday, about me and my faith or the fact that I profess anything. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, incarnate, put to death, risen, ascended, and interceding. Baptism is entirely about him. It is not about pointing to ourselves and our newfound faith; it's not about saying, "I'm a new man." Rather, it's about the New Man, Jesus!

Sinclair Ferguson, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, writes thus on baptism: "Baptism is often viewed as if it were primarly a mirror of our spiritual experience of conversion, and as though its core significance were our testimony to our faith in Christ. It is thus interpreted as a sign of our response the gospel in conversion. . . . Rather, baptism is first and foremost a sign and seal of grace, of divine activity in Christ, and of the riches of his provision for us. It is not faith that is signified or sealed. It is Christ." He goes on to say that credobaptism "throws us back upon our own actions, decisions and experiences, and thus distorts the function of faith, which is to turn away from the resources and actions of the believer to the grace that is his or hers in Jesus Christ." **

Now, I don't want to knock anyone who was baptized as a believer; many of you had no choice as a child. But I want to encourage you to view your baptism not as joy or hope in your own faith, but as a source of joy and hope in the object of the gospel itself: the God of love, mercy, faithfulness, and grace, who has provided so abundantly for your sins and has drawn you to himself and will keep you there forever.

* Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1963), 99.
** Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Contours of Christian Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1996), 198-99.

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